As a mother of two, I know how much I want the best for my children. I want, with all my heart, to know that my children are healthy, develop well and will thrive when they grow up. Our family is lucky: we have always had food on the table, access to great schools and time to spend together.
But the best many mothers can offer is sometimes simply not good enough. Globally, nearly half the children who die before their fifth birthday do so because their bodies are too weak from lack of the right nutrients to fight off common illnesses. Many babies are born underweight as a direct result of malnourished mothers, which highlights the critical importance of better nutrition for women and girls. Children who are malnourished at a young age may not develop mentally and physically as they should, making it even harder for them to break out of the cycle of poverty.
In China, we have seen significant improvements in mothers' and children's well-being, especially given the country's large population. In the past two decades, maternal mortality has reduced by 70 percent and under-five child mortality by nearly two-thirds. On the other hand, expected years of schooling have increased by 3.6 years and per capita gross national income has risen six-fold. China now ranks 61st out of 178 countries in Save the Children's State of the World's Mothers report, overtaking all the other BRIC countries. The country is certainly taking great strides to catch up with others in the region, including Singapore (15th), South Korea (30th) and Japan (32nd).
But as in many emerging economies in Asia, China's economic growth and overall improvement in mortality figures mask the huge disparities in terms of mothers' and children's well-being. They can be in terms of the divide between the rich and the poor or between urban and rural communities. Although spatial inequalities have been reduced to some extent in China, the under-five child mortality rate in the poorest regions could be ten times that in the wealthiest regions.
Many mothers who we (Save the Children) work with in our projects in China, both in remote rural areas and in some migrant urban communities, are not adequately nourished, do not have sufficient social and medical protection, lack awareness of their own and their children's health needs, and get limited support from family and community. These mothers try to do their best for their children, but with further support they could do a lot better.